We have simulated the 2017 NFL season 10,000 times to determine the division winners, playoff participants and the most likely Super Bowl champion. How do our projections compare to three stats (Pythagorean wins, record in close games and turnover differential) that can be useful in predicting which teams will improve and decline this fall?

Last week we covered Pythagorean Wins, now we tackle record in close games.

Teams that have a good or bad record in close games one season usually don’t perform to the same level the following year because it is difficult to regularly win games decided by a touchdown or less.

For example, in 2015 Carolina and Arizona went 10-2 in one score games, the teams met in the NFC Championship game. Last year, the Panthers and Cardinals combined to go 4-11-1 in such games, neither team made the playoffs. On the other extreme, teams that perform badly in one score games are just as likely to regress to the mean (improve). The Titans, Cowboys and Giants had three of the worst records in close games in 2015 combining to go 7-20 (22.7%). A year later these teams won nearly 75% of their tight contests (21-8) and Dallas and New York made the playoffs.

What teams can we expect to improve and decline in 2017 based on record in close games?

Oakland Raiders8-188.9
Houston Texans8-280.0
Miami Dolphins8-280.0
New England Patriots4-180.0
Dallas Cowboys7-277.8
New York Giants8-372.7
Kansas City Chiefs6-366.7
Pittsburgh Steelers4-266.7
Tennessee Titans6-366.7
Green Bay Packers5-362.5
Seattle Seahawks5-3-162.5
Washington Redskins5-3-162.5
Detroit Lions8-561.6
Tampa Bay Buccaneers6-460.0
Indianapolis Colts5-455.6
Baltimore Ravens6-554.5
Atlanta Falcons4-450.0
Los Angeles Rams4-544.4
New York Jets3-442.9
New Orleans Saints5-741.7
Denver Broncos2-433.3
Minnesota Vikings2-433.3
Arizona Cardinals2-5-128.6
Carolina Panthers2-625.0
Buffalo Bills2-722.2
Jacksonville Jaguars2-820.0
Los Angeles Chargers2-820.0
Cincinnati Bengals1-5-116.7
Cleveland Browns1-5 16.7
San Francisco 49ers1-516.7
Chicago Bears1-614.3
Philadelphia Eagles1-614.3

Nearly half of the Bears and Eagles games were decided by one score last year. Chicago and Philadelphia each managed to win just one of those contests finishing with the worst records (1-6) in close games. The good news, each team should see positive regression this fall and our simulations agree. Da Bears are projected to win five games and a winning record in one-score games could have Philly in the playoff conversation.

Jacksonville, LA Chargers, Cincinnati and Cleveland all underperformed their point differential by more than two wins in 2016. Not surprisingly, they each won two or fewer games decided by seven or less points. Record in close games, as well as our simulations, think each should win more games than last year.

Which teams will take a step back? Oakland, Houston and Miami won 80% or more of their games decided by one score. The Raiders, Texans and Dolphins all made the playoffs. Oakland is the only one of the bunch expected to have a winning record (9-7) overall in 2017. Eight of Houston’s nine wins and eight Miami’s ten wins were decided by seven points or less, that isn’t repeatable.

New England also won 80% of its one score games. Should the Pats regress in games decided by seven points or less in 2017? Yes, but bet against the Patriots at your own risk, Tom Brady and Bill Belichick are projected to win the Super Bowl again.

Check back this week when we look at turnover differential.

NFL Week 1: Texans vs. Jaguars

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